Laura Bonk gave this testimony to the New Hampshire Death Penalty Study Commission yesterday:
My name is Laura Bonk and I live in Concord, New Hampshire. I appreciate the time and energy that you are all devoting on behalf of New Hampshire’s citizens. I have spent most of the past decade as an elected or appointed official in New Hampshire. I know that it is hard to balance competing values and interests and that this study commission has many viewpoints to consider.
I come before you today as a victim of a violent crime and more importantly, to honor my mother. Today, August 12th, is my mother’s birthday. If she were alive, she would be 69 years old. Sadly, she was murdered in August 1989 one week before her 48th birthday. My 16 year old sister was also shot at the same time. After several surgeries, she mostly recovered.
The shooting took place on a hot, Sunday afternoon in Littleton, Massachusetts—just south of the New Hampshire border. My mother was visiting an elderly woman who was suffering from dementia. The woman’s son decided to shoot my mother and sister as they sat at the kitchen table. It was a senseless crime.
My mother had a clear and strong moral code that guided her life. One of her beliefs was that she opposed the death penalty. I ask, as a citizen of New Hampshire, that you recommend the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. It would honor me, and most importantly, my mother.
I have a graduate degree from MIT and I’m normally comfortable with facts and figures—and yet my family tragedy is not just another statistic in our country’s horrible struggles with homicide. The murder profoundly and deeply altered my life and the lives of my family, neighbors, and friends. We all did not feel safe. How could a murder happen on a summer Sunday in a quiet neighborhood? How could a murder interrupt a good deed of checking on an elderly person? A murder—with no motive—and no explanation.
At the time of the murder, I was only 23 years old—the oldest of 3 girls. I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, South America. It had been more than a year since I had been in the States and had seen my mother. Ironically, 6 months before, in February 1989, I lived through a military coup d’ etat in Paraguay. General Stroessner, after 34 years of totalitarian rule, was overthrown by General Rodriguez. Paraguay had yet to enjoy the peace of a civilized society. My mother had been terrified for my safety. As life unfolds in ways that are often incomprehensible, I remained safe and she was later killed near her hometown.
I arrived back in the States 2 days after her murder. I would immediately become the legal guardian of my 16 year old sister. My mother did not have life insurance and her only liquid assets were $6,000 in an IRA fund. Without a job, I was expected to support my sisters. Fortunately, to pay our bills, we received $25,000 from the Massachusetts Victims Fund and numerous donations from our community members and friends.
The unexpected death of a loved one is always a tremendous shock; however, when the death is a homicide, the victims become part of our government that few people experience. First hand, I witnessed the glories and imperfections of our government employees. I owe a profound thanks to the police and firemen who risked their own lives to subdue an armed gunmen. They were able to save my sister’s life in those first crucial minutes. However, with the glories also come the imperfections. I remember impulsive detectives who jumped to conclusions and ignored facts. I remember a trial that was postponed several times—each postponement created debilitating anxiety and stress. It was more than a year later before the trial began. We all wanted justice and we wanted it swiftly. The postponements only prolonged our agony. More than one year was a horrible wait. The length of time in capital punishment appeals must cause great harm to the victim’s family. Each day of waiting for a trial is a day that is not lived fully—it is a day of stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, in 1989, capital punishment was not allowed in Massachusetts. Justice was a long prison term. Our trial was difficult to live through. A capital punishment trial would have been worse due to the intense publicity and lengthy appeals.
Most importantly, capital punishment was not able to divide my family. Had capital punishment been an option, my aunt—my mother’s younger sister -- would have supported it at that time. This would have divided and destroyed my family when we greatly needed each other. Families are rarely united on capital punishment. The option only serves to divide and destroy the families and friends of the murder victim.
I would like to believe that our society has matured to the point of realizing that State sponsored killing is beneath us. The most important thing is to remove those who have murdered from the public arena and that can certainly be done with a long prison term.
Time passes and 3 years ago, while I was preparing dinner here in Concord, my aunt called me. She told me that the murderer died of natural causes in prison. There is a false belief that death brings closure to the victims. It does no such thing. The murderer’s death does not bring your loved one back. It does not lessen the pain. It does not help the victims heal.
Today, on my mother’s birthday and in her honor, I plead that you recommend the repeal of the death penalty in New Hampshire. My mother taught me that capital punishment was barbaric and had no place in a civilized society. If my mother were alive, she would be proud that I came forward today. My mother always told me that my job is to make this world a better place to live. New Hampshire would be a better place without the death penalty.